"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Thursday, July 24, 2014

trading carpet, part 1

I wrote here about our cat problems and how I had plans to rip up the carpet on the stair landing and replace it with hardwood. I'm sure you've all been waiting on the edges of your seats since then, eagerly anticipating the post where I would share that adventure. Well, you can relax because that post is finally here. However, a word of warning: this is a pretty long post; there was a lot to do! I'll actually split it into two posts, one for pre-floor installation activities and one for floor installation and finishing.

There are a couple of reasons why this project was so long in coming. One was that I decided it would be best to have my dad come help me, since he is really good at house stuff and has some experience laying hardwoods at his house. Another reason was that I was trying to train the cats to dislike the landing before installing the nice new floor in the hope that, once the new floor was in, they would not return to their previous behavior. 

Back in April, I ripped up the carpet and padding. That was the easy part. Then I had to pull off all the tack strips, which was less easy. For that I used a variety of tools, including a flat-head screwdriver and hammer claw. Then I pulled all the staples out of the subfloor, which was not difficult, but was time-consuming and tedious. For this I primarily used needle-nose pliers, with the occasional use of the flat-head screwdriver to help pry up staples that were too flat against the floor to get a good initial grip with the pliers. 

At this point, we learned the extent of the cat damage. Under blacklight, there was definite staining of the subfloor. Luckily, the damage was not so extreme as to have warped the subfloor. I treated the area with Anti-Icky-Poo, an enzymatic cleaner. Later on in the process, I would treat it with a different enzymatic cleaner, Nature's Miracle, and a home-made solution of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. In the end, there still seemed to be some visible staining under blacklight, but we just painted it with stain-blocking Kilz oil-based primer and hoped for the best. However, that's getting a little ahead of ourselves.

I also pried off part of the baseboard, which had also sustained some liquid damage. For this, I used a pry-bar. I read online the importance of putting a thin piece of scrap wood behind the pry-bar, so you don't accidentally bust through your drywall when you pry back. I had intended to replace this piece of baseboard, but instead we ended up slicing off the bottom inch or so and installing it back in on top of the hardwood (more on this later).

I then covered the landing, other than a small strip to walk through, with boxes. We buy a lot of things on the Internet, so we have a lot of boxes. This made it more difficult and less desirable for the cats to go on the landing. Oliver still seemed to find some areas for bad behavior, though, so next I added a Glade Sense & Spray. This is a motion-activated air freshener, so when the cats (or we) walked by, it would make a little motor-whirring sound and poof some Hawaiian breeze into the air. The sound definitely startled Dodger, making him very cautious of the landing and not want to linger there. I think the smell and the addition of more boxes helped deter Oliver. However, once the boxes were removed to prepare for installing the new floor, Oliver did pee on the subfloor again. That dampened our spirits, delayed our getting started a bit, and earned both cats a prolonged stay in their cat room until the new floors were completely installed, plus a day or two after.

My dad arrived on a Thursday night in June. We examined the subfloor under blacklight and painted it with my dad's home-brew solution: 0.5 cups of 3% hydrogen peroxide, a drop of liquid dish soap, and 1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed together until dissolved. Whether this destroyed the odors or not, Oliver still peed there Friday, resulting in liberal use of Nature's Miracle by my dad. I had planned to prime the subfloor Friday night, but it had to wait until Saturday, as the subfloor was now quite damp. I put a fan blowing on it all night and still had to finish up with a hair dryer the next day.

While I was at work on Friday, Dad got started on the stairs. The first thing to do was cut off the nose on the existing treads. Since we were going to put the new floor and stair noses on top of the existing treads, the new noses wouldn't sit on there properly with the existing noses still in place. I watched a video online about using a circular saw, but I think my dad used a reciprocating saw. The cut didn't have to be pretty since we'd be covering it up with the new nose anyway. 

Dad also did some checking of the squareness of our stairs. If they weren't square, we'd have to do a bunch of crazy angled cuts to make everything fit in nice and flush. Luckily, our stairs were done well and haven't had much time to settle or warp or whatever, so they are square enough :-)

We also had several emails and texts back and forth about how to do the treads. I had initially planned to do them with the stair planks going horizontally across the tread. However, this would be the opposite direction of the planks on the floor below and the landing above. My dad thought it would be better to either use a solid tread or put the planks vertically on the tread to match the direction on the floor and landing. The reason I originally nixed the idea of a solid tread is that it can be harder to get it to match the hardwoods, since you generally have to just buy an unfinished tread and stain it to match. Rethinking that plan, I did find one that claimed to be the same finish as our floors. However, the solid tread comes with a nose as part of it, but we'd have a different nose for the landing, so we were worried that it might not match that well and would look weird. Given all these possibilities for not quite matching, we decided to stick with the idea of using the planks, but go with my dad's plan of putting the planks the same direction as the floor and landing.

Lastly, Dad cut the stair risers to size. When I got home from work, we installed them. The existing risers weren't at exactly 90 degrees from the treads or perfectly straight across, so we used shims to get the new risers as level as possible. We used my 18-gauge brad nailer to nail the new risers to the shims and original risers. 

The risers were pre-primed, so once they were installed, I painted them. I used leftover white gloss paint the builders had left us that matches all the trim in the house. I also touched up the trim where we had banged it up during riser installation.

Bright and early Saturday morning, Dad and I went to a local equipment rental store and rented a pneumatic flooring nailer. This is a different kind of nailer from the usual brad or finish nail gun, specially designed for nailing tongue and groove flooring. 

We didn't actually get started nailing right away, though. There was a lot of prep work. First, we took the door off the powder room. This gave us better access to the entire landing, including the threshold into the powder room.

I painted the landing with Kilz oil-based stain-blocking primer. I had read that oil-based would work better for sealing in the odors than water-based. I painted it on pretty thick since we didn't want anything coming through.

And that finishes up the pre-flooring-installation fun. Stay tuned... coming soon, floor, baseboard, and shoe moulding installation!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

it's that time of life, i guess

I currently have 5 girlfriends who are pregnant! Two of them are with their second child! Well, as promised here, pregnant friends get baby blankets. I won't go into much detail, since I already did that post, but I wanted to share pictures of my latest sewing adventure.

This blanket is for my friend Cathy, over at Sparks Fly. They decided to decorate the nursery in blue and gray with elephants, which I LOVE. I scoured the Internet for good elephant flannel. I had decided that I wanted to do a more typical checkered quilt pattern this time, but trying to decide from online images what blues and patterns would look good together was tricky. Then I came across these pre-cut squares on Etsy. I figured, if they're sold as a set, the colors must go together. 

When I got the flannel squares, I laid them all out to make sure I liked the look. I debated a little bit, but ended up going with the classic pattern. I sewed the squares together one at a time into strips across, then sewed those strips together. This seemed like a logical thing to do at the time, but in retrospect, I should have pinned all 36 squares together first. This probably would have made the columns line up more evenly. 

After I got all the squares sewn together, I made my way to JoAnn Fabric to get the fabric for the back and edges. For the last blanket I made, I used red minky. I intended to get the same thing in blue, but none of the blue options seemed quite the right shade. Then I spotted another micro-fleece (not sure if it's technically considered "minky" or not) that was just the right blue/gray and super soft. I got 1.5 yards of it. 

At this point, I washed both the micro-fleece and sewn-together flannel squares to shrink them up before sewing them together. I cut the micro-fleece to 48"x48". Then I followed the same instructions I used before (video and text).

This micro-fleece was a little more difficult to work with than the red minky I'd used before. I think that's because it was a bit thicker and fluffier. My new sewing machine definitely does a good job of feeding the fabric. I'm slowly learning to trust it more. 

Anyway, here's the final product. I hope Cathy likes it as much as my other friend liked hers! 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

a stole for a remarkable minister

If you don't know what a stole is, never fear! A stole is something that ministers generally wear to signify being yoked to God. Although you may never have a need or desire to make a stole, the principles are good for any applique project.

A very good friend of mine (I'll call her E, since this is a surprise, so I didn't check to see if she's OK with me using her name) is a minister in the United Methodist Church. In the UMC, becoming a minister is a pretty extensive process. After three years of seminary (minister school), you (hopefully) get commissioned to be a probationary minister, then after another three years, you (again, hopefully) get ordained. Ordination is kind of like tenure. You're not allowed to wear a stole until you're ordained, and my friend is getting ordained this spring, so of course, I had to make her a stole. 

I'd never made a stole before, but my mom is a minister, and she has a friend who is an amazing quilter and has made a few stoles for my mom. So as soon as I heard that E was approved for ordination, I emailed my mom's friend for any advice. I already had an idea planned of what I wanted the stole to look like, which I mocked up in Gimp (free Photoshop-like program), so I sent her that too. 

Here are the main recommendations:
  • For the main fabric, use something with a bit of body to accommodate the appliques. Avoid lightweight poly/cotton blends and anything containing spandex. Look for fabric used for making pants or skirts, like twill or poplin.
  • The appliques can be a different fabric, but should be 100% cotton.
  • Use Steam-a-Seam 2 to attach the footprint appliques to the main stole fabric
I headed off to JoAnn Fabrics and starting perusing the selection. It left a lot to be desired. I wanted to make the stole green, which is the main color used in the church for all but special occasions. There aren't a lot of options for pants fabric in kelly green, but I eventually came across some green denim. Yes, that's right, I said green denim. I then took my bolt of green denim over to the quilting square section to find some small pieces of various colors for the applique footprints. I really wanted to do all the fabric-picking right then and there, since it's easiest to get colors and patterns that go together that way, instead of ordering things online.

The denim was wide enough that I would be able to get all four pieces out of it. 

  I took all my fabric home, pre-washed it, and started cutting. Well, first I measured everything out for the denim, and then I started cutting. 

The part where the two sides come together in the back was a bit tricky, but I just started with a shallow angle and slowly made it sharper, pinning and trying it out each time, until it seemed to lay nicely.

Next, I printed out my footprint pattern in a couple of different sizes and chose the one that seemed the best. Then it was time for the Steam-a-Seam 2. I followed the directions, tracing the footprint pattern onto one side of the paper, then peeling off the other side, sticking it to the applique fabric, and cutting out the footprint. I did this for all the footprints and laid them out on the denim to get the spacing figured out. I marked the bottom of each print with chalk to remember where they all went. Then I started ironing. The Steam-a-Seam directions said to put a damp piece of cloth over the applique before ironing. At first, I used a towel, but the terry-cloth left little dimples in the applique fabric, so I switched to an old t-shirt. Also, as the denim got wet, the color bled onto the ironing board, so I put an old towel underneath. 

  Once all the appliques were ironed on, it was time for the hard part -- sewing around each applique. I'd done zig-zag stitches before, but they always looked very zig-zaggy, whereas stitching around appliques always looks very smooth and solid. After much Internet research, I went to my sewing machine manual, which, it turns out, has a section on sewing appliques! I probably could have saved myself some surfing time if I had thought to look in the manual first. It's a little bit of trial and error, adjusting the pressure of the presser foot, the main thread, and the bobbin thread, but I soon came up with a combination that seemed to be capable of creating the look I was going for. 

Now it was time for practice. I practiced a lot. Having never done this type of stitching before, it took awhile to get a feel for how to make it work. The key seems to be running the machine sort of fast (not crazy fast, but not snail-slow either) and moving the fabric slowly. This keeps the stitches close together to get that smooth, solid look. After a few practice runs on scrap fabric for the main footprint part, I felt confident enough to go for the real thing. I decided to do all the sole parts first, then go back to the toes, since after much practice, they were still pretty tricky.

I used silver thread to add a little sparkle, and I LOVED the look. For awhile, I debated whether or not I should bother stitching around the appliques, since it would be difficult, it wasn't really necessary due to the Steam-a-Seam, and I thought maybe it looked OK without it. But I'm really glad I did it. It just made everything look a little more finished, plus it added the aforementioned sparkle.

Now for a slight tangent. When I had 2.5 toes left, my sewing machine started jamming. At first I thought it was the bobbin, but I took out all the thread, and it had the same problem. I went to JoAnn and got some sewing machine oil. Using my manual, I opened up and oiled every spot indicated for oiling. It definitely seemed to move better, and I was very optimistic that this had solved my problem. Then I started sewing again. It did better, but it still jammed up some, though I was able to get it going again each time. In this way, I was able to finish the toes, which was very important since it had taken a lot of trial and error to get the settings just right for doing the applique stitching. However, when I tried to switch back to regular straight stitching with regular thread, the jamming continued, and I sadly admitted that my Kenmore Ultra-Stitch 6 had sewed its last stitch. Even though I still had plenty of time before ordination, I was antsy to get the stole finished, so I borrowed my in-laws' sewing machine for the last step of sewing the denim pieces together. It worked OK, but I was used to my machine, and I had trouble getting used to the different feel of theirs. Luckily, there wasn't much more sewing left. 

First, I sewed the two front pieces together and the two back pieces together. Then I sewed the front to the back. This is pretty straight-forward and standard -- put the right-sides facing each other and straight-stitch around, leaving a reasonable-sized opening, through which everything will be pulled to turn it right-side-out. After turning it right-side-out, I hand-stitched the opening closed.

I had initially envisioned writing the names of the churches that have been important to E's spiritual journey in between the feet. However, once it was done, I thought that might seem like too much. I solicited opinions from several friends and the overwhelming vote was to instead write the church names on the back of the stole. That keeps the sentiment without overcrowding the front and detracting from the feet. It also leaves plenty of room for additions as the bishop moves E to new churches over the years. I used a silver Sharpie paint pen to carefully print the names. Then I declared the stole complete. 


Sunday, May 18, 2014

a new home for thread

This was a busy project weekend, working on two projects, plus house cleaning. I'll post about the sewing project soon, when I get it finished. The other project is something I started quite awhile ago, but finally got finished. My good friend with tools brought over his miter and table saws for me to borrow while he's out of town, and I quickly put them to use. 

I'd found this a long time ago and saved it for the future. Well, the future is now. Back in February, I cut the frame and shelves with my new miter box and primed them. I bought the beadboard for the back and then got busy and never got around to cutting it. Now that I have a table saw in my garage, it was a simple thing to cut it to size. 

I made a different size than the project website -- 24" wide x 17" tall. I made five shelves, each 3.25" tall. The beadboard was pre-primed, so after getting it cut, I glued the frame on with wood glue. I clamped it and let it dry for awhile, then put some 1.5" nails in with my brand new nail gun to give it some extra hold. Next I measured the locations for the shelves and did the same with those. 

After letting the glue dry, I put on a coat of white gloss paint. It's paint that was left behind by our house builders as the color of all our molding and doors, so I don't know exactly what it is. I let that dry for several hours since I didn't have more time to work on it Saturday. Sunday, I put a coat of spray polyacrylic on to give it some protection and a bit more gloss. I let that dry for a couple of hours. Then I nailed on some hooks to the back. I've had a box of assorted picture hanging hardware for years; I think it came from Ikea. It was nice to be able to put it to use. I put two hangers on the back, one on each end near the top.

Then I measured and put some nails in the wall, hung the shelf, and put my thread on it. Clearly, I overestimated the amount of thread that I have, but I'm sure my collection will grow as I do more and more projects over the years.

a pfaff for a tropf

In the middle of a recent project (no spoilers, but coming soon!), my sewing machine started jamming. At first I thought it was the bobbin, but I took out all the thread, and it had the same problem. I went to JoAnn and got some sewing machine oil. Using my manual, I opened up and oiled every spot indicated for oiling. It definitely seemed to move better, and I was very optimistic that this had solved my problem. Then I started sewing again. It did better, but it still jammed up some, though I was able to get it going again each time. I sadly admitted that my Kenmore Ultra-Stitch 6 had sewed its last stitch. 

My mom has a friend who is an amazing quilter. She recommended that I get Pfaff sewing machine. It has a feature called Integrated Dual Feed, or IDT (maybe the acronym makes sense in German), which helps the top and bottom fabrics feed evenly and sew smoothly. I looked online and found a dealer in Annapolis (Capital Vac and Sew). A girlfriend and I went over to check it out. 

The lady at the store showed me the Passport 2.0, which is the lowest cost Pfaff with the IDT feature. It has 70 stitch styles, which is about 10 times the number of stitches on my old Kenmore! The fabric fed really smoothly and all the stitches she showed us looked really nice. I fell in love immediately. Sorry for the bad picture; the lighting for photos isn't great there.

If you purchase a sewing machine at Capital Vac and Sew, it includes a lesson on how to use your new machine, so I went back the next weekend. I had an hour of learning how to wind the bobbin, insert the bobbin, thread the needle, use all the buttons to select a stitch and control the stitch length and width, and use all the different feet that come with the machine. I should be all ready to go. Now I just need some projects!

And finally, some advice sent to me by my Mom's friend:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

what happens when you pull your car too far into the garage

Back in December, we cleaned the rest of the old furniture out of our garage, so Zach's car could finally live in there. Of course, there's still a lot of stuff in the garage, and it's just barely big enough. The lawnmower lives on Zach's side of the garage, and he pulls right up to it, leaving about 3 inches between then back of his car and the closed garage door. Sometimes, he pulls in a little too far and nudges the lawnmower. Last week, he pulled in a little more too far and nudged the lawnmower into the water spigot, bending the knob attachment. I came home from work the next day to a mini river flowing from the hose out to the driveway because, with that attachment bent, the knob wouldn't fully close anymore.

  After turning off the water to that spigot, I easily took the knob attachment out, just by unscrewing it. I was hoping to only have to replace that part because attempting to unscrew the entire faucet+pipe was not successful. Unfortunately, the plumbing guy at Home Depot (who was extremely nice and helpful and talked to me at just the right level of knowledge) said that wouldn't really work. For starters, you can't just buy that inner piece. Plus, he said that if you just replaced that part, you couldn't really be sure that you got a good seal inside. So besides getting me the faucet+pipe piece I needed, he also recommended a penetrating lubricant (insert dirty joke here) to attempt to get the existing pipe to budge.

Now the fun could begin. In order to reach the oil back to the pipe fitting, I had to rip out some drywall. And it turned out to be super-thick drywall, about an inch thick, so cutting through it was not easy. Between a box-cutter, hacksaw, rubber mallet, and lots of elbow grease, I finally got enough drywall out that I could reach in and find the screw end of my pipe. 

I sprayed it liberally with the penetrating oil, let it sit and penetrate for a few minutes as instructed, hooked on my wrench, and attempted to turn. No luck. More oil, more waiting, more no movement. Eventually I gave up and waited for Zach to get home. I held the wrench while he gripped the faucet with some pliers and attempted to turn. No luck. More oil, still nothing. More oil, still nothing, other than Zach yanking so hard that I lost my grip on the wrench, which then smashed into my finger. At this point, we gave up again to wait until we could enlist help from our wonderful friend, who has helped me many times in the past (with this, and this, plus various other smaller things that haven't made it into this blog). 

The next evening, our friend came over, and between two strong men and two pairs of pliers, they finally got that pipe unscrewed! 

It turned out that the pipe/faucet that the Home Depot guy had picked for me was longer than what we had, so with pipe in hand, I went back to Home Depot and traded it in for a shorter one. It turned out they didn't have one that was actually the same length, but the shorter one wasn't MUCH shorter, and I already knew there was some wiggle room, so I went with that. 

We already had some Teflon tape, which I wrapped around the threaded end of the pipe for sealing help. I screwed it in by hand as tightly as I could, then enlisted Zach's help again to tighten it further with me holding the end still with pliers and Zach screwing the pipe in. We turned the water on and no leaking! Success!

Unfortunately, this project was still not done. As you can see from the above photo, there was still a hole in the wall. Since the drywall was so thick, I figured I could just screw the one side back in and glue the rest of it back together. And since it's in the garage and doesn't need to look nice, I decided to not even mud over it this point. This turned out to be less easy than anticipated, but eventually I got it closed up enough for a garage wall.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

my cats are not hellish enough for jackson galaxy

Warning: this is a pretty long post and not about house projects. If you choose to not continue reading, I will not be offended.

You've probably heard of Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer. You may or may not have heard of Jackson Galaxy, the cat whisperer. He has a show called "My Cat from Hell." Last year, they had an open casting call across the country, and I submitted our cats. Apparently, they were not bad enough, at least compared to other entries, to make in on the show. I think one of the main reasons is that most of the people who get on the show are saying that, if the cat doesn't get it's behavior problems resolved, they're going to re-home it or put it down. We could never do that; I couldn't even pretend we would do that to try to get on TV. 

So why are our cats hellish? They don't always use the litter box. This has been going on for about three years. I don't talk about it much because it's embarrassing, and I feel that, at least some people will judge Zach and me and think that we should get rid of the cats, that we shouldn't put up with this. Because it's not normal. Zach never had pets before, and I often get the impression that he thinks this is just one of those things we have to put up with if we have cats, like having cat hair all over everything. I grew up with cats, and the only times they ever went outside the litter box was when they were sick, and if it went on for too long, my parents had them put down. Our cats are not sick. We've taken them to the vet. Dodger was sick for awhile, so I forgave his bad behavior then. Now he seems to be doing better. Oliver has never had an excuse. Using the amazing technology of a webcam built into my laptop, we've spied on the cats to see who is being bad, and it seems to go back and forth -- one will be bad for awhile, then the other will start. I'll spare you too many details. Recently, we put a litter box in the middle of the staircase landing, and Dodger has been better, but Oliver continues to misbehave. 

Having the litter box on the staircase landing for probably the second or third time was probably the last straw for me. I feel like we can't have people over to the house when we have litter boxes all over the place, and you have to jump over them to get up the stairs. Also, I've been getting some overtime pay the last couple of weeks. I'd been planning to save up for a new laptop, but I decided to instead spend the money on a cat behaviorist, like Jackson Galaxy, but not on TV and not free. So I did some research, and found a certified pet behaviorist in our area, Mary at Helping Pets Behave. (Note: this is NOT a sponsored post (but if Mary happens to see this and decide to give me a discount on future behavior consultations, I would be OK with that)).

After talking a bit on the phone and scheduling a time for her to come out to the house, Mary sent me some forms to fill out, asking for all sorts of info from medical history of the cats to their favorite activities to the nitty-gritty details of their inappropriate behavior. As part of the details, I had to make a floor plan of our whole house, labeling all the litter boxes and their sizes, locations of inappropriate behavior, and places where the cats like to hang out. It all took a really long time to fill out. I also sent a video of Oliver peeing on the floor. 

Then one afternoon, Mary came to the house. If you've ever seen "My Cat From Hell," it was pretty much just like that. I gave her a tour of the house, especially noting where each cat likes to hang out and where they each go to the bathroom. She also got to meet Oliver, who showed off his tiny-ness and walking swagger. Dodger hid as soon as the doorbell rang and would not be enticed out, even by the offer of treats. We talked for over an hour about the cats and their various behaviors, how they've changed over time, and all the things I have tried over the past three years to solve the litter box problems. In the end, Mary seemed to think that the primary issue is that neither cat really likes the litter. We've used a few different kinds over the years, primarily a corn-based litter called World's Best Cat Litter and a clay litter called Cat Attract. Mary suggested getting two new boxes, one filled with about an inch of potting soil and the other with nothing but a piece of the plastic carpet runner that currently covers the staircase landing where the cats like to go. She also recommended moving all litter boxes and food back into the "cat room," a bedroom we have always designated to house a cat tree, some litter boxes, toys, etc. Since all bed behavior was confined to the cat room before we moved food and litter boxes out of it, the goal is to revert back to that previous state with the addition of the new test litter boxes, which hopefully the cats will prefer to the floor.

UPDATE: So far, that has not happened 100%. The cats continued to go on the stair landing. I tried to clean it, but in the end, we decided to rip up the carpet and replace it with hardwood (more on that in a future post!). We have gone back to confining the cats to the cat room at night, which has helped since that's now several hours when they don't have access to the stairs. They have not used the box with the plastic mat, but they have started using the box with potting soil, after I rearranged the boxes a bit. However, after a bit of web-cam spying, I'm not sure that they like the dirt any better than the litter.